Yeah, but city wand expenses are up

BETWEEN THE LINES

April 25, 2005

As Howard County Executive James N. Robey presented his proposed $1 billion budget to the press last week, he was asked about the seemingly dramatic effect that Raymond S. Wacks, the county's budget director for 30 years, has had on Mayor Martin O'Malley's fiscal situation since starting work there just seven weeks ago.

After Wacks retired from his Howard job, he took over as Baltimore's budget officer. Shortly afterward, O'Malley announced a $37 million surplus and a proposed a budget for next year that would lower the city's tax rate by 2 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Robey's proposal requests a $50 increase in the county's annual trash fee, with no tax cuts.

"He's a wizard," Robey laughed.

- Larry Carson

A taxing admission

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke's proposed bill to drop the flat tax on telephone land lines for senior citizens has one problem, she told her council peers: Phone companies can't figure out who's a senior.

And if anything can be inferred from the reaction of one person at the meeting, the seniors might not be willing to help the cause.

"The phone companies could argue that it's hard to know who's 70," Clarke said at the lunch gathering that precedes the council's Monday meeting.

"Well I'm not gonna admit it," piped in Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, who's almost, but not quite, 70.

"Look, Rikki," Clarke retorted, "no one would believe that anyway."

- Jill Rosen

Maybe some trashy humor?

Carroll County Humane Society Director Nicky Ratliff generally lends a little levity to the county commissioners' monthly roundtable discussions. She always brings an amusing animal story to the table. When Ratliff missed the meeting last week, Frank Schaeffer, deputy director of public works, took her usual seat.

"I don't have any funny stories at all," he sheepishly told the commissioners.

He did make a attempt at humor, but as one co-worker put it, he bombed.

"We are all just waiting for Cinco de Mayo," he said to the commissioners. "You know - Cinco de Mayo."

The bewildered commissioners just didn't get Schaeffer's repeated references to the Mexican holiday, which this year coincides with the arrival of the county's new director of public works. Schaeffer finally translated the date for officials.

"I was trying to do the Nicky thing," a crestfallen Schaeffer said. "I guess I will go back to my usual sludge and trash."

- Mary Gail Hare

Mind stays in the gutter

The recent Time article naming Martin O'Malley one of the nation's top five mayors fails to mention that O'Malley is considered a leader among his distinguished peers. Three of the mayors - Atlanta's Shirley Franklin, New York City's Michael R. Bloomberg, San Francisco's Gavin Newsom - have all visited Baltimore to study O'Malley's CitiStat system.

Denver's John Hickenlooper flatly calls O'Malley his "mentor." Only Chicago's Richard M. Daley, with 16 years at his city's helm, arguably enjoys more praise. O'Malley - who calls Daley the "dean" of mayors - spent two days in Chicago last year to learn how to improve city schools.

Despite the national and international praise, O'Malley appears to be keeping it all in perspective.

During a meeting last week with a British government delegation studying the mayor's initiatives, O'Malley informed his guests that the church bells ringing across from City Hall indicated a new pope had been elected. After a few minutes of scattered talk about the momentous occasion, O'Malley coyly steered the discussion back to its thoroughly anticlimatic - yet critically mayoral - issue.

"Anyway," he said, "back to trash and garbage."

- Doug Donovan

Not so good with numbers

If you're still trying to match up the Baltimore City Council members with their new districts, don't feel bad: You're not alone. Nearly five months after 14 council members representing as many districts were sworn in to office, replacing the old system of six three-member districts, even some of the members themselves are struggling to get up to speed.

At the beginning of a hearing last week on an affordable housing bill, Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who was chairing the meeting of the taxation and finance committee, reeled off the roster of the several council members in attendance along with Council President Sheila Dixon: Helen L. Holton, Edward L. Reisinger, Belinda Conaway, Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, Mary Pat Clarke, James B. Kraft, Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

"I did not name their districts," Mitchell confessed, "because I'm still trying to learn their numbers."

For those keeping track at home, Mitchell represents the 11th District.

- Eric Siegel

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